Students from University of Northampton present “Club Wonderland” – an immersive theatre experience at Royal & Derngate.
Alice in Wonderland is a story that a lot of us grew up with, having read it (or watched it in my case) from a young age. However, my trip down the rabbit hole with ‘Club Wonderland’ was definitely far from the seemingly innocent tale of Alice and her adventures and tea parties.
The University of Northampton’s 3rd year BA Acting and Creative Practice students took the audience on a fully immersive journey in the new musical cleverly written and directed by Erica Martin. From the moment we were greeted by the boisterous band of white rabbits we were transported into a different world. However having been sworn to secrecy *pinky promise* by the team at Club Wonderland I shall not delve too deeply into the plot and ruin the surprises for anyone planning on visiting soon.
The promenade performance took the audience all around the Royal, moving up and down staircases and corridors into different rooms each with their own characters and their different stories to tell. The main ‘club’ was situated on the main stage of the Royal itself, beautifully decked out to create a space reminiscent of a 1920’s jazz bar, with grand piano and chandeliers. The detail that had gone into the set was outstanding, from the tiny envelopes filled with ‘mushrooms’ labelled ‘eat me’ to the personalised money we were given as a form of payment to buy drinks and place bets. It’s worth noting that as drinks are provided there is an age limit of 18 – there is also an advised dressed code of black and white.
As you moved around the venue the décor was consistent, it was very aesthetically pleasing and all done to a high standard. The costumes compared to the set and design were somewhat lacking, it would have been nice for there to be more distinguishing features between each character’s costumes – I was unsure at times which original Alice in Wonderland character was being portrayed.
I really enjoyed the soundtrack, with music and lyrics by Josh Bird. The songs were varied and well written, a number of songs including the poignant poetry of Lewis Carroll. ‘Lewis Carroll’ himself was played by James Grayson, who really brought to life a man who although a wonderful writer caused great controversy for his personal motives and fascinations with young girls, like ‘Alice’ (played by Kalyn Chesney). Other songs really highlighted the vocal talents within the ensemble, Freya Mawhinney who played the larger than life, giggly ‘Dodo’ had a particularly standout voice; holding her own in her numerous solo numbers. My favourite number (excuse the pun) was ‘The Best Things Come in Threes’, this was a catchy and comic number performed by a trio (Mawhinney, Rhianne Brown & Naomi Holland) whose harmonies were perfection. There were, unfortunately, a few moments in the ensemble numbers where pitch and timing slipped. The cast’s synchronicity, however, was not to be faulted in the numerous movement and dance pieces. The use of body percussion worked particularly well in a fight sequence alongside the chants of Lewis Caroll’s poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ – the cast’s energy in this number was infectious.
Characterisation was strong, it was clear the students had worked hard at developing the intricacies and individual traits of each of their roles. The white rabbits for example, who worked as the guides (Tiana Thompson was the lovable guide for my group, who we had to refer to as W), each had their own distinctive personality and it was lovely to see their interactions between each other. The Rabbits were excellent at maintaining the sense of immersion while also reassuring and guiding the audience around the building – they also reacted well to the unexpected nature of an immersive performance. Bobbie-Lee Scott’s portrayal of the bashful ‘Tart’ was a stand out for me in terms of characterisation; her use of a soft-spoken lisp made her especially endearing.
Club Wonderland is far from the Disney-fied Alice in Wonderland of my childhood but I was not disappointed by this truly unique and quirky adaptation looking into the curious life of Lewis Carroll.
Club Wonderland runs at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 9 June 2018 – tickets available at www.royalandderngate.co.uk Show is suitable for over 18s only, and guests are requested to wear black and white.
Megan is an actor-musician originally from Northampton. She is a recent graduate of Surrey-based theatre company Peer Productions. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, watching live theatre, going to gigs and befriending dogs.